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July 4, 2007

Raspberry Pie with Lavender Creme Anglaise

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For the 4th of July I decided to try making a raspberry pie. I wanted to do something with just fruit so that I could make some lavender creme Anglaise to go with it. This pie turned out to be exactly what I was hoping it would be. It's a light fruit tart with intense raspberry flavor but not too much sweetness. I served it with a little pool of the lavender creme Anglaise and that was exactly the sweetness and creaminess it needed to offset all that berry flavor. It turned out great, though I think next time I would use a little half and half in the creme Anglaise. I used only whole milk and it is a little on the thin side. But it is still delicious. And now for the recipe...

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July 8, 2007

Peach Crumble

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This Peach Crumble, or Crisp as they're sometimes called, was just a little bit tart but very tasty with vanilla ice cream. The topping is nutty and rich and a perfect compliment to the peaches. The peaches I used were very juicy, so I probably could have tossed them in flour before adding the topping, but I didn't mind the peach juice since I was serving it in bowls with the ice cream anyway. Some people serve crumbles or crisps on their own or with a little whipped cream, but I think you need the coldness of the ice cream to set it off just right. And now for my recipe...

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July 14, 2007

A Day with Georgia

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I spent a lovely day with Georgia, the daughter of my dear friend. Georgia is almost five and, in fact, her birthday is one day after my own. I tried telling her that that made me one day older than she was, but I don't think she bought it. She's a very clever little girl, but she did learn about at least one thing during her day with me.

Ants on a Log
I don't have a lot of kid friendly recipes up my sleeve, so when I thought about what to make Georgia for lunch, I thought I would do at least one thing that was familiar — ants on a log. Hasn't everyone had this childhood favorite of celery with peanut butter inside the groove and topped with raisins? Well, apparently I was the lucky one to introduce this delicacy to Georgia. First I had her guess what the ingredients were. I told her about the peanut butter, she was able to guess the raisins, but the celery was something new to her. She liked the way it crunched and was actually quite happy to eat the celery by itself before I was able to add the other ingredients. But once she tried the completed dish, she was sold. She thought it was the best part of our lunch.

So, not that it really requires a recipe, but if you really want the technique, here goes:

Several ribs of celery, trimmed in 5 inch or so lengths
Peanut butter
Raisins

1. Fill the groove neatly with the peanut butter. Top with raisins set in a row. Serve.

I didn't get a good picture of the finished pieces, but you can see one on this shot of our lunch plate:

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The anticlimactic rest of the lunch consisted of a lovely chicken salad with red grapes and pecans served in a radicchio cup, as well as a colorful cabbage slaw of red cabbage, carrots, scallions, apple and sunflower seeds.

Dessert was a hit, though. We made fresh peach ice cream with some tiny Nutella panini along the side. While we ate dessert we watched Georgia's favorite movie, Barbie Mermaidia which, as Netflix describes, is "an enchanting undersea adventure in this animated follow-up to Fairytopia." So, I guess I learned quite a few things about fairies and little girls from my day spent with Georgia. And I'm looking forward to the next time I see her.

July 21, 2007

Birthday Cake

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I made a chocolate fudge cake for Georgia's 5th birthday party. The recipe was a for a one layer cake, so I made it twice and had two layers. I could probably have just doubled the recipe, but I didn't decide to do two until I had already made one and it was in the oven. And the thing about baking is that you never know about doubling a recipe. It can get you into trouble. I was making her birthday cake the morning of her party. I didn't really want to make an emergency trip to a bakery on the way there for a birthday cake.

So, since it took me longer to do the two layers, I made a chocolate frosting that could be poured on as a glaze rather than having to wait for it to cool and use it as a frosting. Then I added a little bit of pink frosting piping to dress it up a little. Well, it wouldn't win any cake decorating prizes, but it was loved by the birthday girl and her guests. And now for the recipe.

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July 22, 2007

Watermelon Salad

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First I read about it on the Slow Travel food message board then I started seeing it in articles and on blogs. Watermelon salad is clearly the hip salad this summer. It has a very appealing sweet and salty contrast taste thing going for it. And what could be more refreshing on a warm summer day?

Now, by the time I got around to trying it I had already read a number of recipes for it. Some recipes called for mint, some for pinenuts, some for balsamic vinegar and one even called for grilling the watermelon! But the person I first heard about it from (Cheryl from Italian Excursion) said that the one she tasted had just these ingredients: watermelon, feta cheese, black olives, basil and olive oil. That sounded good enough to me. I thought of it as a Greek salad with watermelon instead of cucumber and tomatoes.

So there really was no recipe. I picked up a small round seedless watermelon (personally I think the seeded ones have a little more flavor, but I do appreciate the labor savings with the seedless). I also picked up some sheep's milk feta cheese imported from Israel and some pitted Kalamata olives (saved some labor with those too). I already had some fresh basil from my Fairview Gardens produce.

Then I picked out a bowl and started putting cubed watermelon in it. I used about half of my small round watermelon. I added some cubed feta (about 3/4 of the package) and then a small handful of olives, cut in half. I tore up the basil and sprinkled it in. I thought a very small amount of finely chopped red onion wouldn't hurt and then I drizzled on a little olive oil. That's it. It didn't need salt because of the salty feta and the very salty olives. I probably could have added some pepper, but I didn't think it needed it. It was very simple and it was absolutely delicious. My husband gave it a funny look when I brought it out but with one bite he was sold.

It really is the perfect summer salad. It's light and refreshing but the flavors are bold. As an extra bonus it's gorgeous looking and could be a real conversation starter at parties. And you can feel good about eating all that watermelon because it's a good source of lycopene which does all sorts of great things for the cardiovascular system and protects against cancer. Please do yourself a favor and make this salad!

August 5, 2007

Summer Salad

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Last night I created this refreshing salad, inspired by the classic Italian appetizer Prosciutto e Melone and the equally classic Caprese Salad. I thought it would interesting to merge these two favorites into one dish for a light lunch or dinner. It turned out to be the simplest of things and had the delicious sweet yet salty contrast that I loved in my recent watermelon salad. Though you can pretty much tell by looking at it how it's made, here is a recipe of sorts:

Summer Salad
ingredients:
melon
tomato
fresh mozzarella (I used Bubalus Bubalis Water Buffalo mozzarella produced in California)
Prosciutto
Fresh Basil
Freshly ground black pepper

The quantities were all by eye. I started by slicing up the melon and cutting into rough irregular chunks. Then I added one very ripe, very sweet tomato. I added an equal amount of torn pieces of the mozzarella and a couple slices of the prosciutto, also torn rather than sliced. I finished it off with some torn basil leaves and a generous sprinkling of black pepper.

It didn't need salt because the prosciutto is salty enough and it didn't need olive oil, though you could try a drizzle of a particularly fruity and delicious olive oil. I tossed it ever so gently and let it sit for five to ten minutes. Then we ate every bit of it and wished we had some more.

August 19, 2007

Vegetarian Dinner

We had a really nice little dinner party with our house guest and our neighbors. Great conversations, great wine and they are all such great friends that they were willing to let me cook a few experiments.

appetizers.jpgMy neighbor, Harriet, brought delicious appetizers (hummus, pita and dolmades) and a tasty Greek salad. And I decided to experiment with one of my standard soups, as well as try a completely new entrée and dessert.

Overall, dinner was fine. The soup turned out great. The dessert was divine. Everyone was happy and well fed. I was really disappointed, though, in my eggplant entrée. It was described by my extremely honest husband as “healthy tasting.” And it was quite healthy. I got the idea for it from a couple different recipes in the book The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen by Donna Klein.

First off, I baked the eggplant cubes then I made a gratin of sorts with a tomato sauce that I made with onions, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and a little orange peel and layered that with some white beans, topped the whole works with some dried bread crumbs and a drizzle of olive oil and baked until browned. It sounded good in theory, and it fit the bill for a vegetarian entrée (our house guest describes himself as a strict vegetarian, which means that he doesn’t eat any animal products or dairy). But sometimes what sounds good, doesn’t always turn out. The eggplant was too firm. I think eggplant needs to be meltingly soft. Frying the eggplant would have been better. And the dish really needed a little more flavor or richness. Cheese probably would have helped there, but that would have defeated the purpose of the menu. Oh well.

Luckily the soup was delicious. It was a variation on a soup I have made dozens of times and shared with all my friends. Now it’s time to let my blog readers in on it. You’ll find the recipe at the end, and it’s really worth making.

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This soup manages to be creamy and rich without a drop of cream or butter in it. It’s not healthy tasting at all! Made with Yukon Gold potatoes, yellow squash and my new addition of fresh corn, it’s a beautiful sunny looking soup with a spicy roasted chili garnish. It’s perfect for the end of summer and on into fall.

The dessert managed to even out shine the soup and this was the first time I experimented with a cobbler. I got the idea to do a peach cobbler and a raspberry sorbet from a class that I took from our local Williams-Sonoma. Usually you think of pairing a fruit cobbler with vanilla ice cream, but it turns out a fruit sorbet is delicious with cobbler.

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I offered the choice of the sorbet, vanilla ice cream or both. The recipe that I got from the class didn’t make any sense to me, so I started looking at all sorts of cobbler recipes. I had an old issue of Cook’s Illustrated that did peach cobbler and that was very helpful, but I didn’t like their idea of a biscuit topping. I wanted it to be more of a pie crust topping, the way I had seen it in the cooking class. So, I merged a few recipes and came up with something that works perfectly. This would be fine on its own or served with a little store bought good quality vanilla ice cream. But, to take it to the next level, serve it with homemade raspberry sorbet. I have made raspberry sorbet before, but after looking at a number of other berry sorbet recipes, I decided to tinker with my recipe and this one is definitely better. It has the right proportion of sweetness and it manages to taste more creamy than icy, as a good sorbet should. Please do try these recipes.

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October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

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My Halloween treat to myself is that I just signed up with a group called Plow to Porch Organics to have local, organic produce delivered right to my door each week. Ever since the season ended with the CSA that I joined this year (Fairview Gardens), I have been missing a regular supply of good produce. Plow to Porch sounded like just the right solution — and they even deliver!

So today I got my first box of produce, pictured above. It contained: 1 bag of Shepherds salad mix, 2 Granny Smith apples, 1 lb Pixie tangerines, 1 basket of cherry tomatoes, 1 grapefruit, about 7 tiny Persian cucumbers, 1/2 lb green beans, 1 bunch of carrots and 1 head garlic. A perfectly nice assortment of produce, but I have to confess that I’m a little disappointed that there isn’t a pumpkin. It being Halloween and all.

I will console myself with my favorite carrot soup, which is, at least, the appropriate color. I may even get crazy and garnish it this time with some chopped black Kalamata olives. Recipe follows.

Continue reading "Happy Halloween" »

November 17, 2007

Thanksgiving Countdown

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Thanksgiving is nearly upon us. I am incredibly fortunate to be spending another Thanksgiving with my dear friends, who happen to live next door. There is really nothing like being able to walk to your holiday celebration. It will be a huge feast with fantastic food and lots of friends. We’ll have a couple friends and my brother-in-law staying with us for a few days, so it is about time for me to start getting ready. And since I’m not hosting the big event, I feel compelled to bring plenty of side dishes and desserts, which I'm going to share with all of you in the next few days.

One side dish that my hostess specifically asked for was a Jalapeno Creamed Spinach that I brought last year. This is really a perfect extra side dish for Thanksgiving because it’s green and it’s spicy—a marked contrast to everything else on the table.

The first time I had something like this was at a dinner party over a decade ago with some co-workers. One of the women I worked with (named Laurie) was a really terrific cook, and she was from New Orleans. She made a spicy creamed spinach dish that everyone went crazy over. I always meant to ask her for the recipe, but before I knew it she left the company and went back to New Orleans.

Then I came across a recipe from another Laurie—one of my favorite food writers, Laurie Colwin. It was in her book Home Cooking and it looked very similar to the other Laurie’s recipe. The flavors sounded right, but the ingredients seemed all wrong—evaporated milk, canned jalapenos and frozen spinach. So I had to come up with my own version, which I am now quite happy with.

So, back by popular demand, I give you:

Jalapeño Creamed Spinach

8 cups fresh spinach
1/2 small onion, diced (optional, I’ve left it out for onion hating friends)
1 clove garlic, minced
a couple tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup grated jalepeño jack cheese
a small handful of bread crumbs

1. Steam or saute the spinach. Chop it coarsely and press it to get as much liquid out as possible.

2. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the onion (if using) and garlic and then the flour. Whisk the flour into the butter and cook a little, but do not brown. Slowly add the milk, stirring until slightly thickened. Gradually add the cheese, a little at a time, while stirring, and cook just until smooth and melted. Add the spinach and mix to combine thoroughly. Add some salt and a little pepper to taste.

3. Place in a casserole and top with bread crumbs. Bake at 300°, uncovered, for about 45 minutes or until lightly browned on top.

November 18, 2007

Thanksgiving Recipe: Apple Endive Salad

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Next in my series of Thanksgiving countdown recipes is an Apple Endive Salad. Salad isn’t usually a big hit on the Thanksgiving table. In fact when I was growing up, the only salad you’d see at Thanksgiving was a nasty lime green jello salad with completely unidentifiable things floating in it. I realize that some people have fond childhood memories of certain holiday foods, but for the life of me, I do not understand the appeal of a jello salad. Why is it even called a salad? Bits of canned fruit and possibly mini marshmallows wrapped up in a mass of green jiggly goo are considered a salad? Now, I’m sure some fabulously famous chef will someday reinterpret the jello salad and it will become wildly popular. But until that day, I offer you another option for your Thanksgiving table.

This Apple Endive Salad is beautiful, tasty and easy, and because it doesn’t have greens, it can be dressed and left to sit on the buffet table without turning into a wilted mess. (I think there are some people who wish they had all these attributes!)

Apple Endive Salad

2 tart apples (Jonagolds, Macintosh or your favorite local apples)
Juice of half a lemon
7 Belgian endives
2 stalks of celery
1/2 walnuts (or pecans or your favorite nut)

Dressing:
1 tablespoon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil

salt and pepper, to taste

1. Core and dice the apples, squeeze some lemon juice over them to keep them from turning brown while you prepare the rest of the salad. Trim the bottoms off the endive and reserve enough of the outer leaves to put in a ring around the platter you are going to serve the salad on. The slice the endive into rings. Dice the celery.

2. Toast the walnuts or other nuts on a cookie sheet in a 300 degree oven for about 3 minutes, or just until lightly brown. Chop them coarsely.

3. Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing and add salt and pepper to taste.

4. In a large bowl, combine the apples, chopped endive, celery and walnuts and toss with the dressing. Put the salad in the middle of a platter with the reserved outer leaves of the endive ringing the rim, with their tips pointing to the outside. If you like, you can get creative and alternate red endive with the pale green endive.

Serves plenty as part of a holiday buffet.

November 19, 2007

Thanksgiving Recipe: Roasted Green Beans, Potatoes and Fennel

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Mashed potatoes are such a traditional part of the Thanksgiving menu, that I doubt anyone thinks about adding roasted potatoes to the meal. But I have a dish that combines potatoes with fennel and green beans, so it seems more like a vegetable side dish than a starchy one. The trick to making it tasty is lots of good olive oil, salt and pepper. There really aren’t many ingredients, which makes it incredibly easy to prepare. But you do have to seek out good quality ingredients. It is worth it. You end up with a side dish that is really delicious, and yet so guilt-free that you might be able to talk yourself into having an extra helping of dessert.

Roasted Green Beans, Potatoes and Fennel

2 pounds of small Yukon Gold or red potatoes
2 large bulbs of fennel
1 1/2 to 2 pounds green beans
1/2 to 2/3 cup olive oil
Good coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Thinly slice the potatoes. Cut the tops off the fennel and discard or use as garnish. Thinly slice the fennel bulb. Trim the ends off the green beans.

3. Combine just the potatoes and fennel in a large bowl with the oil and salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly and then spread them out on a baking sheet. Bake for about 30 minutes.

4. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and add the green beans. Toss to coat the beans with the oil and seasoning. Return to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes or until golden brown. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if needed.

Serves plenty as part of a holiday buffet.

November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Recipe: Caramel Apple Pie

This is a very rich and extremely delicious apple pie—a perfect holiday treat. I once entered it in a company picnic pie contest and it took first place! I think part of the appeal is the streusel topping. There is something about those sort of crumble toppings that people just love. And how can you go wrong with the combination of caramel and apples? The only drawback to this pie is that it takes a bit of time to make. You are best off dividing the work over the course of two days. Make the streusel topping and the pie crust the day before. Then the following day make the filling and finish the pie. Don't worry, the effort is worth it.

Caramel Apple Pie

For streusel:
3/4 cup all purpose flour
6 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 each teaspoon of clove and ginger OR 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

One round of chilled pie pastry for bottom crust only

For filling:
3 pounds apples (about 8), peeled, cored, cut into chunks (use a tart apple that holds up when cooked, such as Jonagolds or Granny Smiths)
1/4 cup all purpose flour

1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Plus more caramel for drizzling on top (optional)

---------------------------

Make streusel:
Mix flour, sugar, pumpkin pie spice and salt in medium bowl to blend. Rub in butter with fingertips until mixture forms pea-size clumps. (Dough and streusel can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate streusel. Keep dough chilled. Let dough soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.)

Roll out dough on floured work surface to 14-inch round. Transfer to 9 1/2-inch-diameter ceramic deep pie dish. Crimp edges decoratively and refrigerate until needed.

Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 375°F.

Make filling:
Combine apple wedges and 1/4 cup flour in 2 medium sized bowls lined in foil (the foil is just for easier clean-up, the caramel turns rock hard when it cools). Toss the apples to coat. Let stand while preparing caramel.

Stir sugar and 1/4 cup water in heavy large saucepan (unlined copper is great for this) over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil syrup just until it turns amber colored, brushing pan sides with a wet pastry brush and swirling pan occasionally, about 5 minutes or maybe longer, depending on the amount of heat and the pan you are using. You need to keep an eye on it—stop when it turns a nice amber color, do not overcook. Remove from heat. Add butter and 2 tablespoons cream (watch out, the mixture will bubble vigorously). Stir until smooth.

Pour caramel over the apples in each of the two bowls as equally as possible; toss to coat. Let stand until apples release juices, tossing occasionally, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile put water in the pot that you used for the caramel and bring to a boil, otherwise it will be impossible to clean.

Spoon apple mixture into prepared crust. Sprinkle streusel over pie.

Bake pie until apples are tender and streusel is golden, covering crust edge with foil if browning too quickly, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Transfer pie to rack and cool at least 1 hour. If you like you can drizzle with some additional caramel sauce. Serve pie warm or at room temperature, with or without vanilla ice cream.

Serves about 10.

December 10, 2007

Holiday Cookies

It’s holiday cookie time. A friend of mine just emailed me asking if I knew of a cookie recipe for a holiday cookie exchange. I've been part of a holiday cookie exchange for years, so every year I try to come up with a new impressive cookie that everyone will like. I've had some winners over the years. But then there was last year's disaster. The gingerbread puff pastry cookies that didn't hold their shape. They may have tasted fine, but they looked like bloated, deformed sea creatures. No pictures survived.

Luckily I can dig back and resurrect this really delicious and quite attractive cookie—Apricot Crescent Cookies. Even though I like to try out new recipes each year, these have made it to the list of classics that I turn to time and again.

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Apricot Crescent Cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter
6 ounces cream cheese
2 cups flour
1/2 cup apricot jam (you could also try other types of jam)
2 egg yolks, beaten with a few tablespoons of milk
some finely chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
powdered sugar for dusting

1. Combine the butter and the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Sift
in the flour and then knead until smooth. Divide into two and wrap each
in plastic and refrigerate overnight or for at least 3 hours.

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line some baking sheets with
parchment paper.

3. Roll out the each half of the dough into a rectangle about 1/8 inch
thick. Cut into squares, roughly 2 inches. Place a small amount of jam
in each corner and add a little of the egg and milk mixture to two sides of the square. Then fold in half to form a triangle. Seal the edges and roll diagonally and bend into a slight crescent shape. I actually prefer to make them 3 inches square, because they are a bit easier to make and to seal. Here's a picture of them at 3 inches:

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4. Place on cookie sheets and brush with more of the beaten egg yolks and milk
mixture. Sprinkle with the optional chopped nuts, if you like. Bake
12-15 minutes or until just barely golden brown. Cool on rack and
sprinkle with plenty of powdered sugar.

This recipe will make about 15 cookies at the 3 inch size. If you need a lot for a cookie exchange, you can double the recipe.

December 27, 2007

What to Do with a Panettone

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Did someone give you a panettone this year for Christmas? Or have you been buying them for yourself all season and eating slices every morning for breakfast? Some people love them, some people hate them, but panettone seems to me an essential part of the holidays. I just love that impressive dome shape and the light consistency of the bread studded with raisins and all sorts of candied fruit.

I am happy to simply eat lightly toasted slices of panettone at breakfast with my cappuccino. I don't think panettone needs butter or jam, it is just fine the way it is. But what if you want to do something special with your panettone? You could make French toast with your panettone, and it would be quite tasty. But my favorite way to gild the lily, so to speak, is to make panettone bread pudding. Mine is fairly simple but completely indulgent and rich. Just right for a New Year's Eve dinner or even just to celebrate the fact that you have an extra panettone sitting around.

Panettone Bread Pudding

2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
1 vanilla pod, cut in half and seeds scraped out
Zest of one orange
4 large eggs
3/4 cup superfine sugar (if you can’t find superfine sugar you can make it by running granulated sugar in your food processor until it is powdery)
1 Panettone, cut into thick slices
A little powdered sugar to garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. Heat the milk and the cream in a saucepan just to boiling. Add the vanilla pod and seeds along with the orange zest to the pan and remove from the heat.

3. Beat the eggs and sugar with a whisk until light and fluffy. Remove the vanilla bean from the milk/cream mixture and then whisk it a little bit at a time into the egg mixture.

4. Dip the slices of Panettone into the egg custard mixture and place into a deep buttered baking dish until it’s full and pour a little more of the custard on top. You may have extra Panettone and/or custard, depending on the size of your dish. I’ve used a 2 quart dish in the past and had leftover Panettone (which I happily eat as toast the next morning). Before putting it in the oven place in a roasting pan and pour boiling water to about halfway. This will keep it extra moist and delicious, but I have skipped this step a few times and the results were still fine.

5. Bake for about 45 minutes (or until the sight and smell drive you wild!). It should have a nicely browned crust but be very tender and soft inside. Serve with a little powdered sugar sprinkled on top.

Serves about 8

January 8, 2008

Current Scones

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Look at those beautiful scones! They are as light and toasty as down comforters and about as welcome on a cold morning. I love freshly baked, homemade scones. Every so often I remember how much I love them and I bake a batch for breakfast. They are just as tasty at breakfast with some simple scrambled eggs as they are elegant with afternoon tea. Starting off a weekend morning with scones makes it seem like it will be quite a relaxing and pampered weekend.

Scones really are among the easiest of things to bake—even easier than pie crust—and quick, too. Scones are in that baking category of quick breads: muffins, tea breads, biscuits, etc.—all things that don't require yeast. Also, the ingredients are things you usually have on hand, unlike in the case of biscuits for which I never have buttermilk on hand.

My recipe is for current scones, but you could use any small dried berry or pieces of fruit instead of the currents. Raisins are always good, and I've tried dried cherries, too. With the addition of the grated orange peel you have extremely tasty Orange Current Scones. But if you don't have an orange, don't let that stop you. They are perfectly fine without it.

This recipe makes eight. Believe me, you and a friend will have no problem polishing off four of them right out of the oven. You can save the other four for later in an airtight container, and then heat them up in the oven or toaster oven before serving. Scones are definitely best served warm.

As for what to serve with them, plain scones are fine, but they are even better split and spread with a little unsalted butter. If you live in a country that has clotted cream readily available, you are set. And, by the way, can I come visit? You can also up your sugar intake by serving them with jam or lemon curd. But most importantly scones are completely enhanced by the accompaniment of a cup of tea. They work almost as well with a cappuccino or some hot chocolate. So if it's cold this weekend, cuddle up with a homemade warm scone!

Current Scones

2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Grated peel of one small orange, about a teaspoon (optional)
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1/3 cup whole milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup currents (or raisins or other dried fruit)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat mat.

2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, salt and orange peel. Pulse a few times to thoroughly combine the ingredients. Add the butter in a few small pieces and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the milk and just 1/2 of the egg and pulse only until the dough clumps together.

3. Turn the dough out onto a board and knead a few times as you incorporate the currents. Shape and roll out the dough into a flattened circle about 1/2 inch thick. Use some flour on your hands and rolling pin to keep the dough from sticking. Note: if you like, at this point you can wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours until you are ready to bake.

4. With a pastry cutter or a knife cut the dough into eight equal wedges. Place on the lined baking sheet. Brush the tops with the remaining egg and bake for approximately 15 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Cool and serve with butter, clotted cream and/or jam.

Makes 8 scones

February 3, 2008

Chocolate Decadence

We had quite the fabulous weekend of wine tasting, good food and great conversation at the second annual Slow Travel get together in Paso Robles. The Lemony Semolina Cookies that I brought were a big hit. And I'm glad that I brought my Chocolate Decadence Cake (despite its minor mishap) because it was devoured as well.

This Chocolate Decadence Cake is a dense, rich and nearly flourless chocolate cake that is inspired by an Alice Medrich recipe. It is really better made a day ahead of serving. So, it is perfect for entertaining or bringing to an out of town event. Unfortunately when I made it this time, I was a little impatient and tried to get it out of the pan the day it was made. The cake decided that it was not ready to leave the pan. The sides were stuck like glue. I practically had to chisel it out of the pan. So it had far more of a rustic look than I had intended. But the flavor was, as always, delicious.

Chocolate Decadence Cake

5 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate (I use Valrhona 71%)
1/2 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1 cup granulated sugar (it will be used 1/2 cup at a time)
2 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon rum (vanilla infused rum is especially good)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 large egg white
Some boiling water

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.

2. Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a large bowl. Note: if you’re using the 3.5 ounce bars of Valrhona, 5 ounces will be about 1 3/4 bars. It took me quite a bit of higher math thinking to figure that out, so I thought I'd pass that tip on.

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3. In a small heavy saucepan, combine the cocoa, just 1/2 cup of the sugar, flour and salt. Whisk in the water until it is smooth. Then cook over medium heat just to a simmer, stirring constantly. Simmer for about 2 minutes, continuing to stir and turning down the heat slightly if it starts to sizzle and stick to the pan. Next pour the hot mixture over the chopped up chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted. Add the rum and vanilla.

4. In another bowl add the eggs, egg white and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Beat with an electric hand mixer at high speed for about 5 minutes. You could also use the whisk attachment on a stand mixer, but it is nice to pull out the old hand mixer once in a while. After 5 minutes it will be substantially increased in volume and look light and fluffy. Gently fold the egg mixture a third at a time into the chocolate mixture until combined. Pour into the cake pan and make sure the top is smooth.

5. Place your cake pan in a large baking pan, then pour boiling water to come up to about halfway up the side of the cake pan. Carefully place in the oven on the rack in the lower third of your oven. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the top springs back slightly when touched. The interior will still be soft. Remove and cool on a rack.

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6. Once it is completely cool, cover and refrigerate for one day before serving. Don't be impatient! Run a knife along the side of the pan. Unmold from the pan and turn right side up. You can dust the top with powdered sugar or cocoa and you can serve it plain or dressed up with some whipped cream or ice cream. Fresh berries are a particularly nice garnish. Serves 8 (large slices) or 12 (slivers).

February 9, 2008

Sugar Snap Peas

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Sugar snap peas are in season! When they're fresh, local and organic sometimes you want to make a whole meal around them. And that's exactly what I did last night. After I sauteed the sugar snap peas, I added some leftover chicken and served the whole works over some basmati rice and called it dinner. It was so delicious that I went to the Farmer's Market this morning and bought more sugar snap peas. The sugar snap peas don't have to be your whole dinner, they will just as well make a nice side dish. Now, I have to admit, part of what made this dish so tasty was the addition of a little Tangerine Olive Oil from Pasolivo that I bought when I was up in Paso Robles. If you don't have tangerine infused olive oil, I would suggest adding a little orange or tangerine zest to your best olive oil to get much the same effect.

Sugar Snap Peas

1 shallot, minced
1/2 tablespoon butter
a drizzle of olive oil
1 pound of sugar snap peas, topped and tailed and the little strings pulled off and cut into bite sized pieces
salt
pepper
water
a little more olive oil (preferably tangerine infused or add a little orange or tangerine zest to some regular olive oil)

1. In a large saute pan over medium heat, add the butter and olive oil and saute the shallot until just soft. Add the sugar snap peas and salt and pepper to taste. Then add just enough water to coat the bottom of the pan.

2. Cover the pan and let it steam for about 3 minutes. Taste one to make sure it is tender but still crisp and add a little more salt and/or pepper if it needs it. Then drizzle with a little bit of tangerine oil and serve.

Serve by itself as a side dish or over rice with or without the addition of a little protein for a complete meal.

February 10, 2008

Apple Crisp

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It's nearing the end of apple season, so I'm glad I got the opportunity to get one more delicious apple dessert in. I have my neighbor to thank because she invited us over for dinner last night. I asked what I could bring, and she suggested dessert and perhaps something with apples. As for dinner, she made the most delicious Moussaka I have ever had. In fact I have asked her to be a guest blogger and post her recipe. Hopefully she will agree.

So my contribution to the meal was an Apple Crisp. The cinnamon in the crisp was a nice echo to the cinnamon and spices in the Moussaka. I have made many a fruit crisp, but I think my new version here is the best. It's loosely based on recipes from both Alice Medrich and Alice Waters, and it has mostly just evolved from me tinkering with it. The use of almonds is my most recent adjustment. I think I'll keep it. The recipe follows in the extended entry.

Continue reading "Apple Crisp" »

February 20, 2008

Coffee Bean Cookies

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If the idea of chomping into a roasted coffee bean doesn't scare you, these cookies are calling out your name. Actually they are not as intense as they look. Each cookie probably only has about the amount of caffeine as the average cup of decaf coffee. And the flavor of the coffee bean (yes, it's real) is quite tasty. The slight bitter edge that it has is completely offset by the flavor of the cookie.

My Coffee Bean Cookies are inspired by Alice Medrich's Coffee-Walnut Cookies. I made my version with almonds instead of walnuts, and I think it gives them a slightly milder flavor. But if you have good walnuts on hand, by all means use them. And if you want to roll out and cut the cookies with cookie cutters, refer to her original recipe. I've taken the simple slice and bake approach here.

These cookies remind me of a nutty shortbread. Of course they are delicious with coffee. They are also excellent with tea. For some reason the flavor of the coffee doesn't conflict with the tea. My husband, who doesn't normally get excited about cookies, loves these. I think it is because they are not too sweet. They are perfect for a coffee lover, or really anyone. Oh, and as long as you have a food processor, they are incredibly easy to make.

Coffee Bean Cookies

1 cup of blanched almonds
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons finely ground good coffee (I have been using Starbucks Christmas Blend, but any good medium roast should be fine. Alice Medrich says not to use espresso-roast)
1 3/4 sticks of unsalted butter (14 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon of vanilla infused brandy (or plain brandy)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Approximately 40 whole coffee beans (the same roast that you used above)

1. In a food processor, pulse the almonds until they are finely ground. Add the flour, sugar, salt and ground coffee and pulse until they are all combined. Add the butter in several pieces and pulse until the mixture looks crumbly. Add the brandy and vanilla extract and pulse until it begins to clump together slightly.

2. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead a couple times until it holds together. Break into 2 pieces. Roll out each into a log about 10-12 inches long. Wrap each in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight. You can keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days or freeze for up to a couple months.

3. When you are ready to bake: preheat oven to 350 degrees. Take your dough out of the refrigerator, and let it rest at room temperature for a few minutes. Then slice into 1/4 inch thick slices. Using ungreased, unlined cookie sheets (this will allow them to brown and don't worry, they won't stick), arrange the rounds at least 1 inch apart. They will spread. Press a coffee bean with the seam side up in the middle of each cookie.

4. Bake the cookies for 12-14 minutes or until just lightly browned on the edges. I use Alice's advice to rotate the pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking. It does help. After baking, the cookies will firm up in about a minute and can be transfered to a wire rack to thoroughly cool before storing in an airtight container. Even after a week, they are fresh and delicious. Alice says they will last a month. Sadly I have not been able to keep them that long.

Makes 3-4 dozen

February 25, 2008

Broccoli Rabe with a Little Broccoli

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To tame the bitterness of broccoli rabe, I like to cook it with its cousin broccoli. Well, actually I don't think broccoli and broccoli rabe are cousins. Broccoli rabe is more closely related to wild mustard, but the florets do resemble broccoli, and they seem to get along in terms of flavor. If you're not sure that you even like broccoli rabe, then try cooking it with some broccoli. It might just win you over.

A lot of the recipes for broccoli rabe call for blanching it before sauteing. The blanching is another way to tame that bitterness. But who wants to dirty up another pot? Here's my simple and delicious way to combine broccoli and broccoli rabe. This is less of a recipe and more of just a few guidelines, so it can be adapted to whatever quantity you want to make.

Start off by cleaning and trimming your broccoli and broccoli rabe. I usually use equal amounts of each. I like to cut it up fairly small because it cooks quicker, say 1 inch pieces. Also chop up some garlic, one or two cloves.

Heat some olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes. Broccoli rabe can take a bit of heat, so add to your taste. Just as soon as it sizzles (almost immediately), add the broccoli and broccoli rabe. Generously season it with salt. Stir it a bit and then turn down the heat to very low and cover it.

Cook until it is tender. Start checking it after about 5 minutes. The salt will bring out the moisture in the vegetables so you shouldn't have to add any water to the pan, but if it does dry out, just add a little water or chicken broth. When it's done, you can grind a little black pepper over it and serve it as is or dress it up with some grated Parmesan cheese on top. It's also delicious mixed into some pasta with a cheese sauce. That slight bitterness of the broccoli rabe adds a richness to the plain broccoli that I find pretty irresistible. The two are a winning combination.

February 28, 2008

Gingerbread... with Chocolate

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In my Five Favorite Foods entry I picked chocolate and ginger as two foods I could not live without. So, imagine my happiness when I found a recipe for Gingerbread that had a chocolate swirl topping. It was in the book "Great Food Fast" which is from the kitchens of Martha Stewart Living. I thought about applying the chocolate technique to my own tried and true gingerbread recipe, but decided to give theirs a try. After tinkering with it only a little I think it's just right.

This is a comfort dessert at its best. The richness of the bittersweet chocolate is the right touch with the spicy gingerbread. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you like, but it's perfect all by itself. It is richer and more decadent tasting than the typical gingerbread. But that is a good thing. It will keep you from eating the whole pan. After one piece, you will be satisfied. And luckily it is moist enough that it will keep well over a period of a few days, if well wrapped.


Gingerbread... with Chocolate

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup water
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and place a rack in the lower third of the oven. Butter an 8-inch square pan.

2. In a large mixing bowl, sift to combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and all the spices.

3. Heat the water and the butter in a small saucepan over medium until the butter is melted. Stir it into the dry ingredients until smooth. Add the molasses and the egg, mix until combined.

4. Melt the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl until soft. Stir until melted. Let cool slightly. Pour half of the gingerbread batter into the pan, then drizzle with half of the chocolate. Pour the remaining batter in the pan and drizzle with the remaining chocolate. I drizzled it in rows and then ran a knife through it to give a marbled effect.

5. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Serve slightly warm with, or without, vanilla ice cream.

Makes 9 squares of gingerbread.

March 22, 2008

Cooking Class: Olive Oil Citrus Cake

I'm starting at the end by posting this dessert recipe because it would make such a delicious Easter cake. And I realized that if I posted it right away, someone might just want to make it today or tomorrow.

This recipe was inspired by an Orange, Almond and Olive Oil Cake recipe that I found on the Slow Travel food forum. Among other changes, I use pine nuts instead of almonds and I pour a glaze over the cake. I think this is moistest cake I have ever had. The citrus flavor is amazing, too.

One time when I made this cake, I used blood oranges instead of usual Navel oranges. The color of the ground up mixture was very red, as you can see in this photo below of the ingredients. The finished cake did have a slightly speckled look to it but the flavor of the cake was not all that different. So, I would say use whatever oranges you have on hand. But it is easier if they are seedless, because it can be difficult to pick out the seeds.

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It is delicious served by itself, but you can really take it to the next level if you serve it with either whipped cream, ice cream or some berries. I've served it with sliced strawberries, and it's delicious. For the cooking class I served it alongside my Honey Ice Cream with a shot of espresso poured over the top—a winning combination. It's really hard to go wrong with this cake. And since it's so moist, it will keep for several days... perhaps longer. I've never actually been able to test that aspect of it.


Olive Oil Citrus Cake

1 medium lemon
2 small oranges (preferably seedless)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 eggs (room temperature)
1½ cups sugar
3/4 cup toasted pinenuts, finely chopped
2/3 cup olive oil
1 cup white wine (a fruity or sweet wine will work)
1/4 cup honey
Juice of one small orange


1. In a medium saucepan, put the whole lemon and oranges and add water to cover. Simmer over medium heat for about 30 minutes, then remove from heat. Drain the fruit and let it cool to touch. Cut the lemon in half and discard the pulp and seeds. Cut the orange in half and discard just the seeds, if they have them. Put them in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely ground. This can be done up to a day ahead of baking the cake. Refrigerate and then let it come back to room temperature before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.

2. Preheat oven 350 degrees and place the rack in the lower third of the oven. Lightly rub a 10-inch springform pan with olive oil.

3. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl beat the eggs until foamy and then gradually beat in the sugar. Gently fold the egg mixture into the flour mixture. Add the ground citrus fruit, the olive oil and pine nuts. Mix just until completely incorporated, do not over mix.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and place on the rack in the lower third of the oven. After 30 minutes, check to see if it’s browning. If it’s a nice golden brown color, cover with foil and bake for another 15 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not cover with the foil if it hasn’t browned, just continue baking for another 15-20 minutes, checking on it every so often.

5. While baking, bring the wine, honey and orange juice to boil in a small heavy saucepan. Simmer and reduce to half or until thick and the consistency of syrup, about 30 minutes. Pour over the cake when it comes out of the oven and cool the cake on a rack before taking it out of the springform pan.

8 large slices or 16 small slices

March 24, 2008

Cooking Class: White Bean and Garlic Crostini

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The appetizer that I made for the cooking class was a White Bean and Garlic Crostini. Instead of using the garlic, olive oil and vinegar in step 3, we used the Parmesan Olivier dipping oil that Williams-Sonoma sells. These dipping oils are not something you'd ever find in Italy, but they really are tasty. This is the kind of short cut I don't mind taking when I'm making a big dinner. In addition to using them on the crostini, I would set out small bowls for people to dip their bread throughout the dinner. Again, not something you would see done in Italy, but a number of Italian restaurants are doing this sort of thing here. People really seem to love to dip!

White Bean and Garlic Crostini

Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
Dash of red pepper flakes (optional)
1 14-ounce can of white beans (cannellini beans), drained and rinsed
A couple sprigs of oregano, rosemary or sage
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 loaf of Ciabatta or other crusty bread
1 tablespoon red wine or balsamic vinegar


1. Add a generous amount of olive oil along with one of the cloves of garlic and red pepper flakes to a small heavy saucepan or skillet over medium heat. Saute just until it sizzles.

2. Add the beans and heat gently for 5-7 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper and stir/mash the beans until you break down the beans to a spreading consistency. Add another tablespoon or so of olive oil to get a spreadable consistency.

3. Meanwhile, grill or toast slices of the bread. Mix the remaining chopped garlic with another couple tablespoons of olive oil and the vinegar and brush this mixture on the toasts. Spread some of the bean mixture on each slice and garnish with a little more of the oil and vinegar mixture and some freshly ground black pepper.

Makes about 12

March 28, 2008

Cooking Class: Salad with Apple, Endive and Roasted Fennel

Roasted fennel adds a nice twist to this salad. The Belgian endive has a slightly bitter note, which is offset by the apple. This is one of those salads that looks best served on a large platter rather than from a salad bowl. It also helps the chunkier ingredients from sinking to the bottom and getting lost. If your fennel bulbs still have the feathery tops, save a few fronds to garnish the salad. I also like to garnish the platter with a few of the outer leaves of the Belgian endive.

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During the class we never got a photo of the salad—I think it was gobbled up before the photographer even got a chance to shoot it. But you can see me prepping the ingredients above, with the feathery fennel fronds reserved for garnishing the platter.

Salad with Apple, Endive and Roasted Fennel

4 bulbs of fennel, cored and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2-4 Belgian endive, cored and sliced horizontally into rings
2 small apples (Pink Lady or any tart and crisp variety will work)
1 head of lettuce or a 8-ounce bag of mixed greens
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

Dressing:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar or lemon juice
1 teaspoon mustard

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees with a large baking sheet on the lower rack. In a medium bowl toss the sliced fennel with some olive oil, salt and pepper to coat it.

2. When the oven is ready, pull out the baking sheet and add the fennel in one layer. Be careful when handling the pan, it will be very hot. Roast for about 10 minutes or until browned. Remove from oven and toss in the same bowl that you used to toss it with olive oil. Let the fennel cool to room temperature.

3. In a large bowl, whisk the olive oil with the vinegar and mustard. Add a little salt and pepper to taste. Add about half of the dressing to the roasted fennel and set aside.

4. Core and chop the apple into small chunks, leaving the skin on. Add to the roasted fennel along with the chopped endive and mix gently to coat the ingredients with the dressing.

5. In a large bowl toss the greens with the remaining dressing and then arrange on a large platter. Add the fennel, endive and apple on top. Sprinkle with the walnuts.

Serves 8-12

March 29, 2008

Cooking Class: Baked Orzo Pasta with Seafood

This is a delicious Mediterranean-influenced seafood dish that is perfect for entertaining. The fish and shrimp are cooked in the orzo which keeps them very moist, so it is a very ‘forgiving’ seafood recipe. I use a Le Ceuset Doufeu Oven to cook it in because it goes easily from stove top to oven, and you can bring right to a buffet where it will stay warm for quite a while.

Here's a tray of the ingredients. Sorry, it all got eaten before we got a chance to take a photo!

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Baked Orzo Pasta with Seafood

Olive oil
2 onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 yellow or orange pepper, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups orzo pasta
4 cups chicken broth
1 28-ounch can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons dried Herbs de Provence
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 pounds mild white fish (such as Halibut), skin and bones removed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound peeled, deveined, cooked baby shrimp
A couple tablespoons chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
16 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Put a large Dutch oven over a medium flame and add some olive oil. Add the onions and saute for few minutes, then add the garlic, yellow pepper and orzo and saute a couple more minutes.

3. Add the broth, tomatoes, herbs and seasoning, bring to a boil and then simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes. But stir often, it can stick.

4. Remove from heat and stir in the fish. Cover and bake for 8 minutes.

5. Gently fold in the shrimp, parsley and feta and continue baking, uncovered, for another 8-10 minutes. It should be bubbly and the fish cooked through. Serve directly from the Dutch oven.

Serves 8-12

March 30, 2008

Cooking Class: Spinaci (Spinach Gratin)

If you order spinach as a side dish in Italy, it is called simply spinaci and this is the way it is generally done. It is quickly sauteed with just some olive oil and garlic. The only thing I add is a dash of red pepper flakes. It is perfect served right away. If you need to make it ahead of time, just put the sauteed spinach in a ceramic baking dish and sprinkle with bread crumbs to be reheated in the oven, thus turning it into a Spinach Gratin.

Here's a photo from the cooking class. During the break, my assistant Craig gave me a hand with one of the batches of spinach. As each batch was finished it went into the white ceramic baking dish that you can just barely see in the photo behind the skillet.

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Spinaci (Spinach Gratin)

Olive oil
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely diced
A dash of red pepper flakes
4 12-ounce bags of spinach
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
A handful of dry bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees

2. Put a large skillet over a medium flame and add some olive oil. Add the half of the garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes and saute just until the garlic sizzles. Do not let the garlic brown.

3. In batches, add as much spinach as you can fit into the pan. Add salt and stir until the spinach is wilted. Serve immediately or set aside each batch of spinach in a ceramic baking dish. Then repeat with another batch of spinach, adding more olive oil, garlic and red pepper, salt and pepper to the pan as needed.

4. Spread the spinach evenly in the ceramic baking dish and top with just a sprinkle of bread crumbs. Drizzle with a little more olive oil. At this point it can be made an hour ahead of time and can sit at room temperature until baking. If you’re holding it longer than an hour (it can be done at most 24 hours ahead), put it in the refrigerator and bring back to room temperature before baking.

5. Bake for about 20 minutes or until it is heated through. Serve hot.

Serves 8-12

March 31, 2008

Cooking Class: Ice Cream ‘Affogato’

Affogato means drowned in Italian, and when you see it on a menu it generally means a dessert that has a shot of espresso poured over it. Gelato (or ice cream) is the perfect vehicle for this sort of treatment. My version is very simple. Just put one or two scoops of the Honey Ice Cream in a bowl and add one shot of freshly made espresso over it. The hot espresso will start to melt the ice cream, but that is fine, the flavor is wonderful and you have the perfect marriage of coffee and dessert.

Now, for a large dinner party, you are going to need a way of making all those shots of espresso in short order. I use an automatic espresso machine, so it’s a snap. If you have a manual espresso machine, decide in advance how many you can comfortably do. If it seems like it will be too much work, you may want to save this recipe for small dinner parties.

For the ice cream, I was inspired by Alice Medrich's Honey Ice Cream in Pure Dessert. I really liked the idea of showcasing honey in a ice cream. For my version I found it worked better if I changed the proportion of the milk and cream and added a little more salt. The flavor of the honey is key—use a really delicious, single varietal honey if you can find it.

Honey Ice Cream

3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups heavy cream

1. Heat the milk in a small saucepan just until it begins to simmer around the edges. Pour the milk into a medium bowl and allow it cool completely (this will keep it from curdling when the honey is added).

2. Add the honey and salt, stirring to dissolve the honey. Stir in the cream. Chill the mixture for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight or 12 hours.

3. Freeze according to the ice cream maker. I like to serve it as soon as it is done, but if you like your ice cream firmer, then transfer to a container and freeze for a few hours.

Makes about 4 cups

April 13, 2008

Sunday Slow Bakers: Italian Crumbly Cake

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Italian Crumbly Cake from Dolce Italiano by Gine DePalma

Here is my first week's effort, just out of the oven. I meant to bake yesterday, but wouldn't you know it, we had a heat wave. It was 92! That is fairly epic in Santa Barbara and it was enough for me to do the shopping and laze around the garden all day with the fountain running. I didn't even get to cooking dinner until about 9:00. So, this morning I got up and immediately after my caffe latte, I started baking.

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The cake came together pretty quickly and easily. I used the almond flour and the "00" flour called for in the recipe. Since it only called for 1/4 cup of almond flour, I now have almost an entire package that I will have to find a way to use, which shouldn't be too hard—especially if I make this cake again.

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The batter was a bit stiffer than I am used to and definitely needed a spatula to spread it into the pan. I'm glad the recipe mentioned that or I might have been alarmed by the stiffness of the batter. The recipe called for baking 25 to 30 minutes. After checking it at 25 and 30, I let it go a few more minutes because the toothpick was still coming out wet. I think the top got browned a bit more than it should have, but it does look nice and toasty. Next time I would go ahead and take it out of the oven, I think it would be fine. Also, I used slivered almonds with skins, rather than the blanched almonds specified in the recipe. So, mine has an overall browner look, which I rather like.

The flavor of this cake is exactly as described in the book. It is dense and delicious with a perfect crunch of almonds on top. It would be wonderful to serve with brunch or afternoon tea. My husband thought it would be good served after dinner with ice cream. I like the fact that the steps are simple and the ingredient list not too elaborate. The trick was finding the "00" flour and the almond flour, but once you have that, it's a snap. I definitely plan on making it again. It's a real keeper.

November 22, 2008

Announcing: Sunday Slow Soupers

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I am excited to announce a new variation on the Sunday Slow theme - the Sunday Slow Soupers! After all that chilly ice cream, what we needed was some nice hot bowls of soup. And the difference this time will be that instead of cooking from a single cookbook, we are all contributing our favorite recipes.

So the plan is to post the recipe two weeks ahead of time to give people the chance to get the ingredients or to make it ahead of time. Well, somehow the time got away from me and we're starting tomorrow and I'm just now getting around to posting the recipe for tomorrow and the entire schedule, which you can find in the extended entry. I will post the following couple of week's recipes in the next day or so.

Let the soups begin!

Continue reading "Announcing: Sunday Slow Soupers" »

November 23, 2008

Sunday Slow Soupers: Porcini and Chestnut Soup

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Our first soup was selected by Amy of Destination Anywhere. I really can't think of a better soup to start this off. It is absolutely delicious, if not particularly gorgeous. Don't let my photo keep you from making this soup if you're on the fence. Yes, it is a plain brown soup, but it has a rich mushroom flavor and a hint of sweetness from the chestnuts.

I followed Amy's recipe somewhat faithfully. I forgot to get a carrot at the market, so I made mine with 2 stalks of the celery along with the shallots. Also, I used the mixed dried mushrooms that are available at Trader Joe's instead of all porcinis. And the recipe didn't call for any salt, so when I added the pepper, I tasted it and decided that it did need a little salt. I guess the thought of all those Top Chef episodes where the Tom Colicchio kept telling people that their dish didn't have enough salt, has really made an impression on me!

So, this would be a perfect soup to start of Thanksgiving. It is slightly rich and flavorful, but not heavy. I think we are pretty well limited to making it only around the holidays when chestnuts are available — unless we plan ahead and pick an extra jar or two. I've included the recipe again in the extended entry. I highly recommend it.

Continue reading "Sunday Slow Soupers: Porcini and Chestnut Soup" »

November 29, 2008

Recipe: Mexican Turkey Soup

Here is Jerry's selection for this Sunday's Slow Soupers. He says:

"We've made this soup a few times and find it is a great way to use up leftover turkey. I really like the mix of flavours. The only thing that I generally do differently is to roast the cherry tomatoes in the oven for about 20 - 30 minutes at 350 rather than pan roast them."

Mexican Turkey Soup

(Serves 4)

1-1/2 cups fresh corn niblets (frozen will work but thaw first)
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped green onions, white and light-green parts only; reserve dark-green ends to garnish
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp finely chopped, canned chipotle peppers
4 cups chicken stock (or if you have time, try making your own turkey stock)
3/4 cups shredded, cooked turkey
1 ripe avocado
2 limes
2 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp finely chopped, fresh cilantro


In a large pot, dry-roast corn over high heat until lightly charred. Set aside in a small bowl. Repeat process with tomatoes.

Using same pot, saute onion, garlic and chipotle peppers in vegetable oil over medium heat. Add turkey and stock and bring almost to a boil then reduce heat to simmer.

Roughly chop tomatoes and add (with juices) to pot along with corn. Season with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, mash avocado with a fork. Mix in juice from 1/2 of one lime and mayonnaise. Stir in chopped cilantro and season with salt and pepper.

Serve soup topped with avocado cream, finely chopped dark-green onions and a wedge of lime.

Nutritional information: Nutrients per serving: 273 calories, 17 g fat, 17 g protein, 16 g carbohydrates, 2 g fibre.

December 6, 2008

Recipe: Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

This is one of my all-time favorite soup recipes. I got the original idea of it from a Silver Palate recipe and now I've been doing variations of it for years. It can easily be made vegetarian or even vegan, but is also quite tasty with the pancetta, butter, etc.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

2 butternut squash, about 2 pounds each (or 1 acorn squash and 1 butternut)
a little butter (or olive oil)

a couple tablespoons diced pancetta (optional)
1 onion, diced
a dash of red pepper flakes (optional)
5-6 cups of chicken (or vegetable) broth
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
dash of freshly ground nutmeg
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

optional garnish: a little creme fraiche or plain yogurt


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the squash in half and scoop out seeds. In a roasting pan, place the squash with a little pat of butter or a drizzle of olive oil over each piece. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 1-1/2 to 2 hours or until completely cooked through.

2. In a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, saute the pancetta and onion (or just the onion in some olive oil) until lightly browned. Add some red pepper flakes to taste, if you like a little heat.

3. Scoop the flesh from the roasted squash and add it to the pot. Add 5 cups of vegetable broth and the seasonings and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for about 10 minutes.

3. Using a hand mini blender, puree the soup until it is smooth and creamy. If it is too thick, add up to a cup more of the broth. Taste and add more salt, if necessary.

4. Serve garnished with with the creme fraiche or yogurt and an extra dash of freshly ground pepper.

Serves at least 6

Note: can be successfully doubled and can be made ahead of time and reheated just before serving.

December 13, 2008

Recipe: Italian Wedding Soup

Here this week's recipe pick from Terry. She writes:

"I was originally going to do Escarole and Meatball soup, but decided to switch to Italian Wedding instead, although they are pretty close, but not entirely.

The list of ingredients looks a little long, but it's really not that many. As many or some of you know, I am lactose-intolerant, and I made this whole soup with soy cheeses, when dairy is called for. I also used turkey for my meatballs, but I think you could and should use whatever meat you enjoy for your soup. This soup serves 10. For us, that = leftovers! (I've had this recipe for a while; I believe it was from a magazine clipping, but I can't remember!)"

Italian Wedding Soup

Meatballs:

2 eggs beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
3 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 pound ground turkey (or ground meat of choice)
2 tablespoons olive oil
spices: 3/4 teaspoon black pepper, 1 teaspoon allspice, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon salt

Mix everything together, and roll into 1″ balls. Saute in the olive oil until lightly browned on the outside. Set aside.

Soup ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped celery
3 cloves minced garlic
3 diced strips of turkey bacon (or regular bacon)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons Marsala wine
2 quarts of chicken stock
1 cup orzo
1 tablespoon dried oregano
4 fresh leaves of basil, chopped
3 cups of arugula
1/2 cup shredded Parmigiano for garnish

Saute the onions, celery, carrots, and garlic in large soup pot for 5 - 6 minutes. Add the turkey bacon and the balsamic vinegar, and let all the flavors mix and blend.

Add the Marsala and let this cook down a little. When it is almost evaporated, add the chicken stock, orzo, meatballs, and oregano. Simmer this for about 15 minutes, til the orzo is soft.

Add the basil and arugula and cook for about 1 more minute. Serve with a sprinkling of Parmigiano for garnish.

April 2, 2009

Roasted Asparagus

CoverSP09.jpg

Here's a recipe from the spring issue for roasted asparagus, that I just happened to have made again last night for dinner. It's one of my favorites. There are lots of recipes for roasted asparagus, and it's a pretty simple thing to do. But the difference with this recipe is that you preheat the pan in the oven. So when you add the asparagus to the hot pan, you get an immediate sizzle. The asparagus roasts quickly, though the time really does depend on the thickness of your stalks. So you just have to check on it. When the tips start to get crispy, it's done—and delicious.

Roasted Asparagus
Makes 2–4 servings

1 bunch of asparagus, approximately 1/2 pound
1/8 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt, or your favorite fancy sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Put a medium sized shallow roasting pan in the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Rinse the asparagus and dry completely. In a large bowl combine the asparagus with the olive oil, salt and pepper, toss to coat the asparagus with the olive oil and to evenly distribute the seasonings.

When the oven is up to temperature, carefully put the asparagus mixture into the hot pan, spreading it out into one layer. It will sizzle. Roast in the oven until the asparagus is soft and the ends are slightly brown and crispy, approximately 10–20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the asparagus.

Enjoy!

July 14, 2010

Nine Day Detox: Day Two

It's day two in my Natural Detox Program, and it's the first day that I have completely cut out my morning cappuccino. Could this be why I had a slight headache all day? I've decided to have some lightly caffeinated tea. I found a mint white tea blend - all organic - that I think will be a good compromise. It has very little caffeine and is the least processed of teas.

The rest of the day wasn't difficult. I had sourdough toast with a little lemon infused olive oil on it that was delicious. For lunch I went to Zooker's again and had a cup of their black bean soup and a small green salad.

After picking up some vegetables at the farmers market, I made soup for dinner. We finally have some beautiful sunny weather, and it seems odd to be making a pot of soup. But I had a craving for my potato, corn and squash soup. The yellow squash and corn is so great right now. This is a wonderful creamy and hearty soup that I have been making variations of for years. It was inspired by the Yukon Gold and Yellow Squash Soup in the Silver Palate New Basics Cookbook. Whether you are on a detox diet or not, I encourage you to try this soup. I like it served hot, but you can serve it chilled and, if you do, be sure to add the optional garnish.


Yellow Potato, Squash and Corn Soup
Serves 4-6

1 onion, finely diced
olive oil
4 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
3 yellow summer squash (about 1 1/2 pounds), peel on, cut into 1 inch cubes
3 ears of fresh corn, cut from cob
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Optional garnish:

2 or 3 mild to medium chili peppers
1 or 2 small jalapeno peppers (if you want even more heat)
1 avocado

1. In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, saute the onion in some olive oil until lightly browned. Add the the stock, potatoes and squash, and bring to a boil. Add some salt, lower the heat and simmer partially covered until the vegetables are tender. It should take about 20-30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, if you are doing the optional garnish, roast the peppers on a grill or over a gas flame until blackened. Put in a paper or plastic bag for a few minutes to “sweat” then scrape off the blackened skin. Chop the jalapeno peppers. Peel and dice the avocado.

3. Remove the soup from the heat and puree until smooth in the pot with a hand held blender (if you don’t have one of these great devices, transfer to a blender or food processor). If the soup is too thick—you should not be able to stand a spoon up in it—add a little more stock.

4. Then add the corn and cilantro and cook over low heat until the corn is heated and tender but still has a little crunch, about 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Potato soups can take more salt than you realize.

5. Serve the soup. If you use the optional garnish, put each of the garnishes in small bowls and allow guests to garnish with as much heat as they like.

July 17, 2010

Nine Day Detox: Day Five

CilantroSalad.jpg

Day Five in my Natural Detox Program is where it starts to get intense. I'm drinking the shake four times a day and eating only fruits and vegetables. I've even let go of my tea for now. It all sounds pretty harsh, but it isn't for some reason. I guess partly because I know this is only for nine days or perhaps because eating fruits and vegetables for a while isn't all that bad. Summer is a great time to do this sort of thing.

For breakfast it was just a shake, which I supplemented with frozen strawberries and coconut milk. And then I had another shake later in the morning. By lunch I was ready for some food. It wasn't that I was starving, I just wanted to eat something. So I made the Cabbage Cilantro Salad pictured above, and I've included the recipe below.

You definitely don't have to be on a detox program to make this salad. It's a wonderful salad to serve alongside anything from Mexican food to Curry dishes. If I wasn't on the detox, I would probably add tamari soy sauce to the dressing and some chopped peanuts. The recipe makes a lot, so I put the dressing on just the amount I was going to eat for lunch and put the rest of the salad, undressed, in the refrigerator. It holds up pretty well. Substitutions work well with this salad, too. If you don't like avocado, leave it off. Or try adding thinly sliced green onions, radishes or shredded carrots. Things with bright, crunchy flavors work great.

After another shake in the afternoon, I wasn't feeling terribly hungry for dinner, but I knew I needed something. So I made a big pan of roasted vegetables: potatoes, parsnips, onions, zucchini and green beans. I tossed them with olive oil, and added some Salish Smoked Salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. It was delicious and just what I needed. I may not be eating much, but I am eating well.

Cabbage Cilantro Salad
6-8 servings

1 small to medium Napa Cabbage
1 bunch minced fresh cilantro
2 thinly sliced ribs of celery
1/4 cup of mixed sprouts
Dressing:

Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon raw honey
6 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Optional:

1/2 avocado, slice, per serving
Quarter the cabbage, and remove and discard the tough central core. Shred by cutting very thin slices along the length of each quarter. In a large bowl add the shredded cabbage, minced cilantro, sliced celery and sprouts. Toss to mix.

Combine the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl with a whisk. Pour dressing over slaw. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Garnish each serving with sliced avocado if desired.

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